What does a shingles rash look like?

Shingles rash look like and how does it differ from eczema and other rashes? Learn how to identify a shingles rash and discover how to treat it.

Shingles is one of many health conditions that can cause a rash on the skin, but it can easily be confused with other types of rashes such as eczema or those caused by allergies. So what does a shingles rash look like and how can you be sure that the shingles virus is to blame? In this blog, we’ll help you to identify a shingles rash and explain what to do if you suspect you have the condition.

What is shingles?

Shingles is an infection of the nerves and surrounding skin. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus which is also responsible for chickenpox. The virus remains dormant in the body in anyone who has had chickenpox. It can reactivate at any point, often many years later, as shingles. It isn’t understood exactly why this happens, but in many instances, it seems to happen when the body’s immune system is lowered, such as during chemotherapy, at times of intense stress, or following an organ or bone marrow transplant. People with HIV and AIDS have an increased risk of developing shingles due to their weakened immune systems. Since immunity decreases with age, people over the age of 70 tend to be most commonly affected by shingles.

The virus that causes shingles is contagious only for as long as the rash still has fluid-filled blisters because the live virus is contained within this fluid. If you have already had chickenpox, you can’t catch shingles from someone with shingles because the varicella-zoster virus is already present and dormant in your body. However, if you haven’t had chickenpox before, you can catch it from someone with shingles. Those with shingles must take care to avoid contact with others until their rash has fully scabbed over.

What does a shingles rash look like?

The question is what does a shingles rash look like and how can you recognise it? Shingles causes a red, blotchy rash with itchy, fluid-filled blisters. On brown and black skin the redness can be more difficult to see, with the rash often appearing as darkened blotches. The blisters turn yellowish in colour after a few days before flattening and drying out.

A shingles rash looks much like a chickenpox rash, but where chickenpox tends to occur all over the body, shingles is usually limited to a small area. It can appear anywhere on the body, including on the face, but the abdomen and chest are most commonly affected. The rash usually only affects one side of the body. If you see the rash on both the left and right sides of your body, it’s likely that something else is to blame.

What are the other symptoms of shingles?

The main symptom of shingles is the rash which is usually very painful and extremely sensitive to touch. Some people also experience other signs of a viral infection such as fever, fatigue and headache. The pain associated with the rash can radiate deep into the skin and produce a burning, tingling or numb sensation. The rash usually gradually worsens over the course of a week and then dissipates over the next two to three weeks.

It’s common for pain to continue after the rash has disappeared, although it should gradually wear off over the following weeks. In some instances, shingles can lead to postherpetic neuralgia, which is a severe nerve pain that lasts for several months. Other complications, although rare, include Ramsay Hunt syndrome, ulceration or glaucoma of the eye, and bacterial infection of the rash. That doesn’t mean you should panic if you notice symptoms of shingles because the condition is very rarely fatal.

How is shingles treated?

Many people who develop shingles do not require any treatment because the body naturally fights off the virus. Those who are particularly vulnerable due to a weakened immune system may be prescribed antiviral medications. These don’t get rid of the virus, but they can stop it from multiplying to reduce the severity of symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

It’s vital that you keep a shingles rash clean and dry to reduce the risk of bacterial infection. Avoid dressings or plasters that stick to the rash as these can worsen the pain. Do not use antibiotic creams as these tend to slow down healing. Wear loose-fitting clothes to prevent irritation, and use cool compresses and paracetamol to ease the pain. Whatever you do, don’t scratch the rash! This can worsen sensitivity and increase the risk of infection and scarring. Calamine lotion can soothe itchiness to help you resist the urge to scratch.

What should you do if you suspect you have a shingles rash?

If you suspect you have shingles, take care to avoid direct contact with other people to prevent the spread of the virus while the rash has fluid-filled blisters. Do not share towels, flannels, clothing or bedding with anyone. Do not swim or play contact sports. Keep the rash covered if you’ll be around other people. It is particularly important to avoid people with weakened immune systems, pregnant women and newborn babies, all of whom are particularly vulnerable to serious complications should they contract the virus.

You don’t have to visit a doctor if you suspect you have shingles unless you’re someone with a weak immune system or the rash is in the eye region. However, it’s helpful to speak to a pharmacist as soon as possible when you notice a rash. They’ll ask you some questions about your age and health and advise whether a visit to a doctor is necessary. They can also recommend products for managing the symptoms of shingles so you can stay as comfortable as possible during your recovery.

If you suspect you have a shingles rash, don’t hesitate to call or drop into our pharmacy in Camberley for some friendly advice.

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